If you're looking for a book that's all about the angst and excitement of love this weekend, consider To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han. I first fell in love with Jenny Han's writing when I read The Summer I Turned Pretty (also a good pick for some Valentine's Day reading). Han has a graceful writing style that encapsulates the emotions of love and heartbreak.
To All the Boys I've Loved Before may sound like a mouthful at first, but the title is a great hook for this story. Lara Jean loves deeply, but she's never been quite brave enough to reveal her feelings for any of the boys she's loved. Instead, she devotes herself to being a good sister and substitute mother. She bottles up her feelings and writes a letter to each of her crushes, seals it, and hides it away, convincing herself that she is then "over" her feelings. Lara Jean's carefully ordered life begins to fall apart when those letters are sent without her knowledge, and suddenly she finds herself pretending to date Peter, a guy she no longer likes, as a decoy against the guy she really does like--Josh. Her older sister's ex-boyfriend.
Han navigates these twisty plot developments with soft humor and lots of yearning. Lara Jean struggles to mold an identity for herself now that she's no longer in the shadow of her older sister, one that is independent of the caretaker role she has always assumed, but not completely separate. Her faux-relationship with Peter has all of the trappings of clichéd teenage drama, but Lara Jean doesn't succumb to the pitfalls. She's her own person, she asserts her will, and she doesn't do what everyone expects of her if she doesn't want to. Her clashes with Peter have an undercurrent of romantic tension that Lara Jean is blind to as first, and even though their relationship is unconventional, they do become genuine friends. This new level of emotional intimacy in their friendship is what drives the story to the climax, where everything that can go wrong does, the truth comes out, feelings are hurt, and intentions are misconstrued. Nothing is tidy in this book, but Han has done an excellent job at portraying convincing teenage relationships, with some swoony moments and painful growth.
Some aspects of the plot seem a bit too contrived to be totally believable, but these parts are easy enough to ignore. This is a fast, fun read, and there is a sequel, P.S. I Still Love You, coming out later this year!
Cover Comments: I love the blend of Sharpie title and soft pinks and whites in the background. It works--pretty with a surprising, bold twist.
ARC provided by publisher.